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Months-old Uni raises $18.5 million seed round to expand India’s credit card market

The credit card industry in India appears to be stuck. According to industry estimates, between 30 million to 35 million people in the country today have at least one credit card, with up to 58 million being in circulation. Compare this to almost 1 billion debit cards.

One reason the vast majority of the population has not made the cut is because they don’t have a credit score. And so few people have a credit score because banks and credit card companies still rely on age-old methodologies to determine someone’s creditworthiness. For example most banks in India are only comfortable issuing credit cards to individuals who have full-time employment with one of a few hundred companies listed in dated spreadsheets the banks maintain.

Nitin Gupta, a veteran in the financial services business, has co-founded Uni

Nitin Gupta, through his new startup Uni, wants to address some of these issues. And he is one of the few individuals in the country who is positioned to do it. He co-founded PayU India, and then ran ride-hailing firm Ola’s financial services business.

During his tenure at PayU, the startup established a dominance in the payments processing business in the country. And at Ola, he launched Olamoney Postpaid, a service that allows customers to pay for their rides at a later stage. Olamoney, which was valued at $250 million last year, is now one of the largest financial services businesses in the country.

Serious VCs are now willing to bet on Gupta’s new venture.

On Tuesday, Uni announced it has raised $18.5 million in its seed financing round led by Lightspeed and Accel . The startup currently does not have a product, but it took Gupta only two months in the middle of a global pandemic to raise what is one of the largest seed financing rounds in India.

Jayanth Kolla, founder and chief analyst at consultancy firm Convergence Catalyst, said, an “$18.5 million seed funding for a two-month old startup without even a product or an MVP yet — basis purely on the founder’s credentials and history — is the first instance of a pure-play Silicon Valley type funding in India.”

In an interview with TechCrunch, Gupta said at Uni he is joined by two more senior executives — Laxmikant Vyas and Prateek Jindal — who have stellar records in the financial services business.

He declined to reveal what exactly Uni’s product — or line of products — would look like, but suggested that Uni is building the modern age consumer credit card.

“It would seem very obvious when it comes out, and people will wonder why nobody else thought of it,” he said, adding that he is working with multiple banks on partnerships.

The adoption of digital payments has grown exponentially in the country in the last five years, but the credit card business is still struggling to make inroads, he said, adding that he sees an opportunity to expand the credit card base to 200 million over the next five years.

“Nitin and Uni’s team are passionate about unlocking the power of financial services for millions of Indian consumers using new tech-powered solutions,” Bejul Somaia​, a partner at Lightspeed India, said. “We are excited about their mission and proud to support them from day one.”

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Apple alum’s jobs app for India’s workers secures $8 million

Javed, a middle-aged man, worked as a driver before losing that job earlier this year as coronavirus spread across India, prompting New Delhi to enforce a nationwide lockdown and temporarily curb several business activities.

There are millions of people like Javed in India today who have lost their livelihood in recent months. They are low-skilled workers and are currently struggling to secure another job.

An Apple alum thinks he can help. Through his app startup Apna, Nirmit Parikh is helping India’s workers learn new skills, connect with one another, and find jobs.

Parikh’s app is already changing lives. Javed, who could barely speak a few words in English before, recently posted a video on Apna app where he talked about his new job — processing raisins — in English.

In less than one year of its existence, Apna app — available on Android — has amassed over 1.2 million users.

The startup announced on Tuesday it has raised $8 million in its Series A financing round led by Lightspeed India and Sequoia Capital India . Greenoaks Capital and Rocketship VC also participated in the round.

In an interview with TechCrunch last week, Parikh said that these workers lack an organized community. “They are daily-wage workers. They rely on their friends to find jobs. This makes the prospects of them finding a job very difficult,” he said.

Apna app comprises of vertical communities for skilled professionals like carpenters, painters, field sales agents and many others.

“The most powerful thing for me about Apna is its communities — I’ve seen people help each other start a business, learn a new language or find a gig! Communities harbinger trust and make the model infinitely scalable,” said Vaibhav Agrawal, a Partner at Lightspeed India, in a statement.

The other issue they struggle with is their skillset. “An electrician would end up working decades doing the same job. If only they had access to upskilling courses — and just knew how beneficial it could be to them — they would stand to broaden their scope of work and significantly increase their earnings,” said Parikh.

Apna is addressing this gap in multiple ways. In addition to establishing a community, and rolling out upskilling courses, the startup allows users — most of whom are first time internet users — easily generate a virtual business card. The startup then shares these profiles with prospective employers. (Some of the firms that have hired from Apna app in recent weeks include Amazon, Big Basket, and HDFC Bank.)

In the last one month, Parikh said Apna has facilitated more than 1 million job interviews — up more than 3X month-on-month. During the same period, more than 3 million professional conversations occurred on the platform.

Parikh said he plans to use the fresh capital to expand Apna’s offerings, and help users launch their own businesses. He also plans to expand Apna, currently available in five Indian cities, outside of India in the future.

There are over 250 million blue and grey collar workers in India and providing them meaningful employment opportunities is one of the biggest challenges in our country, said Harshjit Sethi, Principal at Sequoia Capital India, in a statement.

“With internet usage in this demographic growing rapidly, further catalysed by the Jio effect, apps such as Apna can play a meaningful role in democratizing access to employment and skilling. Apna has built a unique product where users quickly come together in professional communities, an unmet need so far,” he added.

A handful of other players are also looking for ways to help. Last month, Google rolled out a feature in its search engine in India that allows users to create their virtual business card. The Android-maker also launched its jobs app Kormo in the country.

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Lightspeed raises $275 million fund for India

Lightspeed India Partners on Tuesday announced it has closed $275 million from LPs for its third fund as the top American venture firm looks to ramp up its investments in the world’s second-largest internet market.

The new fund, its biggest for India, will enable Lightspeed India Partners to make early stage bets on more than two dozen startups in the region, said Hemant Mohapatra, a partner at the firm, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The announcement comes as the firm, which began investing in India in 2007, has made two high-profile partial exits in the past year from budget-lodging startup Oyo and edtech giant Byju’s that together delivered cash returns of more than $900 million.

Some of its other major bets including backing business-to-business marketplace Udaan, which was valued at more than $2.75 billion last year, local social media platform ShareChat, which is in advanced stages of discussions to raise capital at more than $1 billion valuation, and SaaS startups DarwinBox, Yellow Messenger, and OkCredit.

The firm, which has six partners in the region, closed its first dedicated fund for India, of $135 million, in 2015. In 2018, it closed its second fund for the region, which was $175 million in size. But the venture firm has invested more than $750 million to date.

The Indian arm, which typically invests at early stages of a startup, continues to work with its global mothership for writing bigger checks to support some portfolio startups at later phases. (More than 80% of its investments have been committed to firms at Seed or Series A stages in India.)

“That’s one of the strongest points of differentiation we have. There are not many venture firms that have such a global presence. Our synergy with the global fund will continue,” said Mohapatra. (Lightspeed also has a big presence in China. Last year, its China arm announced a $560 million fund.)

Lightspeed partners in India. From left: Bejul Somaia, Akshay Bhushan, Harsha Kumar, Dev Khare, Vaibhav Agrawal, and Hemant Mohapatra. (Photo credit: Lightspeed)

Lightspeed, which earlier this year closed a $4 billion fund globally, is one of the handful of American venture firms that aggressively scouts for deals in India. Sequoia, its global peer, announced two venture funds, of $1.35 billion in size, last month for India and Southeast Asia. 11 of its early-stage bets have grown to become unicorns in the last 14 years in this region.

Mohapatra said the Indian startup ecosystem has matured in recent years, demonstrating high-scale growth and delivering big outcomes. It’s also seeing more exits than ever before. Earlier this month, Byju’s acquired WhiteHat Jr., an 18-month-old startup that teaches coding to children, for $300 million in an all-cash deal.

Indian startups raised more than $14.5 billion last year — a record for the local community. The coronavirus has decelerated the funding spree in India, like in any other market.

Mohapatra said a fraction of the firm’s portfolio startups has been disrupted by the virus, but noted that most startups are marching ahead unfazed and some have accelerated in recent months.

“Lightspeed believes this is when the best entrepreneurs and companies of the future will emerge. Strong founders are utilizing the tailwinds of India’s digital ecosystem growth to build out a new future and Lightspeed is strongly committed to backing these founders,” the firm said in a statement.

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